New York has a new newspaper, this one a daily written for and about women

October 11, 1993|By Josh Getlin | Josh Getlin,Los Angeles Times

Just what New York needs: Another struggling tabloid.

It's an article of faith in the newspaper business that you don't launch publications in an over-saturated market. Especially during a recession.

But don't tell that to the folks behind Her New York, the nation's only metropolitan daily paper for women. More than 100,000 copies hit the streets Oct. 1, and the brassy TV and radio ad campaign told the story: "New York Has Never Had Anything Like Her. It's About Her. And It's About Time."

Forget the bloody circulation battles waged by New York Newsday, the New York Daily News and the New York Post, all losing money. And who cares about the New York Times' lock on upscale readers? To Marcia Cohen, they're all juicy targets, waiting to fall.

"Why can't a newspaper for women succeed in this town?" asks the Her New York editor. "We're the majority. We're 53 percent of the population and everyone knows that men make most of the judgments in the newspaper business. It's our turn now."

Boosters say the fledgling publication is a shrewd marketing gamble, and a welcome departure from the traditional press -- where nearly 85 percent of front-page quotes are from men, according to a survey this year by Women, Men and Media, a nonprofit watchdog group.

Yet others question whether the new paper can survive, given shrinking advertising dollars. And there's a nagging reminder that despite the rhetoric, some things never change: At Her New York, women put out the paper, but men control the purse strings.

Indeed, the publication was dreamed up by Steven Hoffenberg, a New York financier whose previous claim to fame was his brief ownership earlier this year of the New York Post. He was forced to unload that bankrupt tabloid last March when the Securities and Exchange Commission sued him for fraud. Now, he's bankrolling Her New York with an initial $3 million loan. Millions more will be needed to ensure the paper's long-term survival, media analysts say.

Mr. Hoffenberg, who runs a corporate bond sales company, has refused to discuss additional funding or advertising rates. Beyond saying the paper has hired a skeleton staff of reporters, editors and production people, he prefers to let the paper speak for itself.

"I was disappointed [with the Post events] sure," says Mr. Hoffenberg, sitting behind his desk in a 15th-floor Trump Tower office. "But the idea for this new publication was born at that time. I felt it was time to try out something like this. It makes a lot of sense."

Others have had to scramble for attention. The inaugural issue's masthead didn't list any of the veteran women journalists who edited and helped produce it. That oversight was corrected Monday.

"Most of the newspapers in this country are run by men and written with a man's attitude," says executive editor Anne Mollegen Smith, formerly editor-in-chief of McCalls, Working Woman and Redbook. "We're going to be writing with attitude, in the funny, poignant and intelligent voice that women use when they talk to each other. We think this newspaper will be able to make that point again and again."

The first issue of Her New York hints at what's to come, adds editor Cohen. Although Big Apple readers will continue to get much of their news from the city's larger papers, she says the new tabloid is already providing a rich supplement. A woman's view, with spunk.

A front-page article, for example, blasts the "Old Boys" in the Senate who gave Hillary Rodham Clinton a hard time over her husband's health-care reform plan. Movie reviews and financial tips are also written from a woman's perspective. Punchy columns by a host of writers -- including Molly Ivins, Linda Ellerbee and former Mayflower Madam Sydney Biddle Barrows -- range widely from the politics of breast cancer to men's post-coital naps.

Her New York will undoubtedly make waves. But it might not make money.

"This is the worst of all possible environments in which to launch any kind of a city newspaper, because only one of the four here [New York Times] has made any money in the last 10 years," says newspaper analyst John Morton.

"I question whether a newspaper devoted exclusively to [women readers] will offer more than the women's journalism already available in this town. One of the cardinal rules of the newspaper business is that you don't try to reach a market that's being well-served."

Local media reaction has been mixed. In a weekend story, the New York Times sniffed that the new tabloid might be "this year's Steven Hoffenberg fantasy," reasoning that the market is glutted with women's publications. But Gail Collins, a New York Newsday columnist, suggests any new publication is welcome in the city -- if only for diversity's sake.

Besides, Mr. Morton says, Mr. Hoffenberg's brainstorm can't be completely dismissed: "For all I know, this guy is inventing a wheel that nobody else has. It might be crazy, but who knows?"

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